HOUSE FULL signs are a rare sight outside theatres these days...
Unless, of course, the show playing happens to be Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s blockbuster musical Les Miserables, the latest production of which has already completely sold out its month long run at the Festival Theatre, despite not opening until 22 January.
The numbers are incredible, 57,425 tickets sold over 32 capacity performances make it the best-selling and biggest grossing show in the 25 year history of the Nicolson Street theatre.
It is also the latest proof, were any needed, of the Capital’s love affair with the musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel.
For those yet to see the production, the piece tells the story of Jean Valjean who, after 19 years as a prisoner, is freed only to break his parole.
Hunted by police inspector Javert, Valjean uses stolen silver to become an honest man, reinventing himself as a mayor and factory owner and becoming the guardian of a young child, Cosette, following her mother’s death.
However, Javert is never far away, determined justice will be done.
The action is played out to a magnificent score by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, which includes the songs Stars, Do You Hear the People Sing?, One Day More, Master Of The House, the show-stopping Bring Him Home, and I Dreamed a Dream, which made a star of Susan Boyle.
Les Miserables first arrived in Edinburgh in 1993 when it took up residence in The Playhouse for a five month season.
So big was the set featuring the now famous barricade and revolve that a backstage wall had to be knocked down to accommodate it.
When the show opened for it Scottish premiere, it did so with much fanfare as, cast in the lead role of Jean Valjean was none other than Pilton-born singer Jeff Leyton.
It quickly became the hottest ticket in town, so much so that four years later it would return to the Greenside Place venue, again with the local star leading the company.
Leyton, now widely recognised of one of the greatest Valjeans in the history of the show, even wowed legendary pop star Cher who described his rendition of Bring Him Home as proof that God had “gazed down on him, touched his lips and said, ‘Here my child, this is my gift to you’.”
The singer, now based in Tenerife, last sang in the Capital in 2014 and has always remained modest about the fact that the accolade of being ‘the definitive Valjean’ is so often afforded him.
“There are loads of Valjeans out there who are fantastic. I guess when you are on stage you never think the audience are thinking that,” he once mused.
“But people have said that to me over the years, and I always think, ‘Yeah, right. I’m going to be found out soon.’ But it is an honour. I just hope that I can live up to expectations.”
Looking back on his homecoming all those years ago he recalls, “Man, it was nerve-wracking when we reached Edinburgh, knowing all my old friends would see me in a totally different light.
“So it was stressful, but we had a lot of fun even though backstage it was very cold - they still hadn’t fixed the wall,” he laughs. “Nonetheless, I had a brilliant time on both occasions.”
It would be more than a decade before Les Miserables would again entertain Edinburgh audiences, when in 2010 Welshman John Owen Jones took to The Playhouse boards as Valjean, although on opening night there was more drama off stage than on.
The star was stranded on holiday in Egypt when volcanic ash saw his flight home cancelled, allowing Christopher Jacobson to fulfil every understudy’s dream by ‘going on’ for the press night.
Later this month, with ‘glorious new staging’ and ‘reimagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo’, Cameron Mackintosh’s breathtaking new production arrives at the Festival Theatre.
It stars Killian Donnelly as Valjean with Nic Greenshields as Javert, Katie Hall as Fantine, Martin Ball as Thénardier, Sophie-Louise Dann as Madame Thénardier, Harry Apps as Marius, Tegan Bannister as Eponine, Will Richardson as Enjolras and Bronwen Hanson as Cosette.
Conceived in 2009 to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the show, it appears Les Miserables is once again set to cast its spell over the city.
Duncan Hendry, Chief Executive of Capital Theatres, which runs the Festival Theatres says, “We are thrilled that Cameron Mackintosh chose the Festival Theatre for the first dates in Scotland for this momentous return of Les Miserables.
“We strive to bring the very best of the world’s stage shows to Scotland and I’m sure Les Miserables will be an unforgettable experience.”
Les Miserables runs at The Festival Theatre from 22 January-16 February, returns only